by Jo Tumbe Mangi
Glasse’s (1968) study of the Huli descent system identifies two levels of political organization. These are known as hameigini timbuni or parishes and hameigini emene or parish sections (Wood 1985: 32). Here hameigini timbuni is defined cognate group that owns a territory in common” (Glasse 1968:34) with more or less permanent boundaries featuring natural landscape or V-shaped ditches, kana, 3 to 1′ metres deep and 2 to 3 metres across the top. Timbuni literally means ‘big’ and emene literally means ‘small’ in Huli. These ditches serve not only as fences but also as public thoroughfares, enabling people to move through more or less unobserved. It also served as a defence strategy in hindering access. The hameigini timbuni is usually named after the male founder. For example, the present day clans of Huni and Wata are named after the two brothers who were descendants of Huli by four generations. Clan size varies in number and in the size of the territory. For the Tari Basin it is estimated that there are over 200 hameigini timbinis (Wood 1985:32). The hameigini emene are subdivisions within the hameigini timbuni and usually named after the sons of the founder. This made peace, and was the effective political unit. They waged war, made peace, and paid indemnities independently (Glasse 1968:24).
The system of land tenure is based on cognatic principles (Wood 1985:34, Glasse 1968:22}. Clan membership is open to anyone by descent both through the father or the mother’s side, that is, ambilaterally. It is also open through marriage. The only requirement is for the member to fulfill his social obligations to other members of the hameigini. This included taking part in fights waged by the hameigini and contributing to activities of the group undertaken by the group. For example, every member was also expected to take part in major rituals (Glasse 1968:78}.
This descent system is identical to the neighbouring Duna and to a certain extent the Wola (Sillitoe 1979a:22-3}. The hameigini is the holding unit. Membership changes.
Huli land tenure is based on this ambilateral cognate principle. While a man’s strongest claim is to the gardens cultivated by his father, he is also entitled to land where he is able to demonstrate that his ancestors actually used that land (Glasse1968:39}. Even today evidence used for validating such claims include features like drains, kana, dug by his ancestors, trees planted, or graves, homali, of his ancestors. This leaves a wide choice. A man can live with the hameigini of his father, mother, and their ancestors, wife, and her relatives, or any combination of the above. Casey ( 1952:55} noted that there were individuals who had ‘definite rights in 6 different areas spread over 15 miles or more’. Indeed, Grant (1979) has shown that there has been an increase in the number of multilocal residents in recent years.
The political structure of the Huli is similar to those in other parts of the highlands in the sense that they have ‘big men’ (agali haguana). Political renown was achieved through the skill in mediating disputes as well as personal wealth, and the ability to contribute handsomely in bride wealth and compensation indemnities. Glasse describes (1968:134} how an individual became a ‘big man’:
The big man establishes his position by participating as an individual in the affairs of not only one but many parish groups. Because of his many parish ties and far-flung interests, he is often concerned in both sides of a dispute, and he can be instrumental in calling for peace, in negotiating compromise and in arranging indemnities. He contributes generously and often to indemnity and other payments, and by doing so establishes claims against some groups to which he is not genealogically related.
Like other highland societies status was achieved, not inherited. Ritual leaders, Kepali, who were the guardians in charge of the different ritual centres, Kepanda, also wielded a lot of power as did the men, Igiri, that were in charge of Haroli and Ipikija that is, the initiation cult of the young Huli men.
Residence and Subsistence
The Huli live in scattered homesteads and hamlets. Usually the different garden plots cultivated by a family would be surrounded with ditches, kana, and would usually include a minimum of two houses, one for the men and the other for the women. This is another interesting aspect. The belief that women would pollute their male counterparts called for not only strict cleansing and safeguarding rituals and spells after copulation (Glasse 1968:59) but also discouraged general contact to such a degree that they led more or less independent lives. All males, apart from the very young and the very old, slept in their own (or father’s) house. While garden making was a joint family venture initially when the crops were planted the plot was divided into sections, one for the man and another for the woman. Each harvested and cooked their own food.
Pig husbandry was a family responsibility (1968:64) and, as in other highland societies, pigs were great valuables. Meggitt ( 1968: 133) mentions that before the anthrax epidemic in the 1940’s that killed a lot of pigs, large herds of pigs were common. Nowadays it appears to be more of a task for the womenfolk, however on several occasions I have observed that particularly among the older generation men still look after a pig or two in their own houses and are responsible for feeding and tethering them. Wood (1984:44) clearly states: “Pigs are the most important animal kept by the Huli with the pig population in most areas exceeding the human population”. From my own observation this pattern still exists today.
Men made their own string bags or bilums, nu, and pubic aprons, tambale. some of the bilums, nu, would be used in trading. This pattern still persists among most of the older men even today. For example, it is a common sight at the Tari market to see old men sit around making bilums, nu, and pubic aprons, tambale, while waiting for customers to come and buy what they had already made.
Despite these seemingly strict rules my own enquiry revealed that the relationship between men and wives was more congenial than the stated ideal. If a man came home from a hunting expedition he would share the meat with his wife. If any of them had any meat from some feasts this would also be shared out. They prepared their own meals. He would also give occasional presents of cowrie shells. Women often accompanied their husbands on expeditions into Obena. From the salt obtained there a man would give a small wrap to his wife to use as she saw fit.
Huli subsistence comprised of sweet potato, Ipomea batatas, as the staple food along, with taro, Colocasia esculenta, as a subsidiary. Other cultigens were sugar cane, Saccharum officinarum, banana, Musa app,’ yam, Discorea app, edible pitpit, Siteria palmifolia, and many other variety of green vegetables (see Powell and Harrison 1982:30-120). In a lot of areas in Huli this general pattern remains the same today.
The basic tool kit for the men was bows and arrows, hafted stone adzes, and small chert pieces which were used for cutting and scraping. In most cases, a young man received his first adze from his father. These were usually small ones that were of little use to the father. Later on, he acquired his own through trade. Bows were also important.
The bow is the most important Huli weapon. From the age of twelve, a boy learns marksmanship ·and develops skill with the bow by hunting possums and birds. After passing the first stage of initiation, an adolescent receives his first black-palm bow (Glasse 1968:92).
The women only used either straight digging sticks or spade like ones, ajakanama. This was usually a single paddle shaped spade and was made from a black palm species (Powell and Harrison 1982:54) that is not the used for making bows.
Hunting and gathering in the forests played a much lesser role in their daily activities. The forest areas were exploited for building material, mushrooms, fruits and nuts, and small game such as birds and possums. Many of these activities were carried on throughout the year. Pandanus, Pandanus brosimos and Pandanus julianettii, also provided an important change in diet. These were harvested and the seed extracted either for consumption or dried and stored for later use.
In conclusion I highlight some of the features of traditional Huli society that not only set them out as different from their neighbors (with the exception of the Duna) but also enhanced the role transactions played in their lives.
The ambilateral kinship and land tenure X system meant that an individual had access to a wide range of environments. It also promoted mobility, something that one could not do in other societies for fear of enemies. Hughes (1977:203) claims that in the area he covered people did not move more than 15 miles (24km). This does not appear to be the case in Hull. The advantages of using their big drains as thoroughfares was that one could move through enemy territory relatively unobserved. Furthermore, there was little chance of major or continuous enmity between the different groups for several related reasons. First, any conflict is always viewed as an action of individuals and not the group as a whole.
Most Huli wars originate not from traditional hostilities between groups but from personal disputes between individuals. Long standing injuries may prompt an individual to exact vengeance against a particular man, but this does not involve political groups in permanently hostile relations. Groups that are enemies on one occasion may be allies on another (Glasse 1968:87-8).
Secondly, there would be people who had vested interest in the other groups because of their land rights. This would mean that these people would act as middleman and negotiators to try and end any conflict. The important point is that there was a lot of mobility.
Traditional Huli society appears to have lacked the elaborate ceremonial exchange system which ensures the movement of valuables and other wealth items within and between societies en masse. From my informants it appears that much of the ceremonial life of the people were focused around the initiation cult, Haroli and Ipikiya, and big religious centres, namely the kepandas. Large numbers of pigs were killed in these centres as part of land fertility rites (Glasse 1968: 107-9). Powell and Harrison ( 1982:23) use the term ‘Kebanda’ incorrectly when they describe it as ‘garden magic house’ because kepanda refers to the whole area where the ritual festivals and offerings were made and not to a specific structure.
It has already been mentioned when looking at the different types of trade and exchange transactions that in such instances as bride price there was no dowry paid in return. This inevitably meant that the bridegroom had to either raise the whole bride price himself or if there was an outside help he would start his married life in debt. I say this because in my area, the Wahgi, dowries are mostly used to pay off some, if not all, of the people who contributed towards the bride price.
Given the ease of mobility and the fact that Huli men could easily get into big debts without dowry with the bride might have provided the impetus for them to go on yole (trade) missions more regularly then other people. Also given the local unavailability of certain utilitarian material such as adzes and black palms could have added to the impetus.
(This extract is from a thesis by Jo Tumbe Mangi, Yole: A Study of Traditional Huli Trade. in full requirement for the degree of Masters of Arts in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology: University of Papua New Guinea. 1988. pp. 27-32).